Timely Movie Review: The Rise of Skywalker


“The dead speak!”

The first line of The Rise of Skywalker‘s opening crawl was an immediate red flag.

In Episode IX, the dead don’t just speak.  They give speeches.

Much as I did with The Last Jedi, I made it to The Rise of Skywalker without any significant spoilers.  And, much like Episode VIII, the Rotten Tomatoes score seemed to be telling.

In case you don’t recall, The Last Jedi scored very well with critics, but fans rated it poorly.  The Rise of Skywalker was the reverse—the audience score stands at 84 percent, while critics rate it at just 55, which is about the same as the worst-reviewed live-action Star Wars film of all-time, The Phantom Menace.

In the case of The Last Jedi, I agreed with the audience.  In the case of The Rise of Skywalker, I agree with the critics.

My biggest issue with TLJ was its frustrating story structure, which was particularly puzzling, given that Rian Johnson had also written and directed the excellent Looper.  The enjoyable, recent whodunit Knives Out proved that Johnson’s pre-TLJ work was no fluke.  But, for whatever reason, he just didn’t “click” with Star Wars, at least not as far as the audience (myself included) was concerned.

I can say confidently that Episode IX didn’t suffer from the same flaw.  J.J. Abrams put together a competently structured story, especially considering that the actor playing one of the key characters was, in fact, deceased at the time of filming.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from numerous other flaws, some small, others more significant.

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Continue? (OR: The Subtle Art of Extracting Meaning from Meaninglessness)

It’s easy for me to pinpoint the moment that got me hooked on “Continue?

I can’t recall how I initially stumbled across the show.  Probably via a YouTube suggestion algorithm.  I was a bit late to the party.  I don’t think I watched my first episode until early 2013 or so, over three years into Continue’s lifespan–and well after the show’s wry, witty co-founder Dom Moschitti had departed.

By the time I caught up to it, the hosts were Pixies fan and legitimately skilled gamer Nick Murphy, de-facto leader / middle-seat-occupier and sometimes bad gamer Paul Richey, and irascible scoundrel and occasional time-traveler Josh Henderson, Dom’s replacement.

In any event, I had watched and enjoyed several episodes before getting to the then fairly recent show that covered the Super Nintendo game Plok.

About six minutes in, Paul, the primary player on this particular episode, stumbles across what appears to be a large present, complete with ribbon and bow.  As a giant, Mode-7-ified question mark displays on screen, Paul, Nick, and Josh shriek in anticipation  . . . before Plok suddenly reappears in a hunter’s outfit, carrying a large gun.

I GOT A BLUNDERBUSS,” screamed Paul.

That moment inexplicably yet organically led to a riff about offensive jokes, with the decidedly unoffensive premise actually being that Paul’s version of a “joke” is simply to blurt out the name of the topic.

“I’m going to tell a 9-11 joke.”

OK, go ahead.”

” . . . . . . . 9-11!!!”

Equal parts glee and good-natured, friendly mockery, Paul’s reaction to a random power-up and the subsequent conversation made me a fan of Continue for life, as well as an eventual, enthusiastic Patreon supporter.

Tomorrow, December 14th, 2019, marks the tenth anniversary of the upload date of the show’s oldest episode.  I thought this would be as good a time as any to share my love of Continue, and explain what, from my POV, makes the show so uniquely good.

First, the basics.  Explaining what Continue isn’t is actually more efficient than explaining what it is.  It isn’t a “let’s play.”  It certainly isn’t a tutorial, as the guys only occasionally bother to learn the games’ basic controls before playing.  It isn’t really even a video game review show.

Ostensibly, the show’s format is a snap judgment on a (usually classic) video game, based on picking up and playing it for 15-30 minutes, ending with a verdict of “Continue” or “Game Over.”

Except that’s not really what the show is about.

The subset of people who are trying to make a decision about whether to buy, say, 1988’s Snoopy’s Sports Spectacular for the NES is pretty small.  That’s why I say it’s not really a review show.

It’s something far better.

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Untimely Movie Review: How the West Was Won

As part of my flagging recommitment to this blog, I’ve dusted off my Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection, which I purchased back in early 2014.  I fairly regularly provided reviews of the films in that collection, which I’ve gradually watched in chronological order.  That ended in 2017, when my job duties increased and my time devoted to this blog declined even further.

That’s changing.  I finally published the review of Ben-Hur I began almost two years ago, and, now, I move on to the next film in the set: How the West Was Won, from 1962.

With an Infinity-War-esque breadth of cast, How the West Was Won sets out to tell the ambitious tale of, well, how the American west was “won” from approximately 1840 until about 1890.  The portrayal of this half-century includes a series of segments divided by significant time jumps.

The film includes portions on westward migration via river and its dangers (circa 1840), westward migration across the plains (circa 1850), the Civil War (1861–65, obviously), the creation of a transcontinental railroad (late 1860s), and, finally, the last days of the Wild West outlaws (circa 1890).  Although there are new, critical characters introduced in each segment, the story is tied together loosely by following members of a single family across four generations.

I wasn’t kidding when I referenced the massive cast.  Although some of these actors only have a few minutes of screentime, the all-star players include Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Debbie Reynolds, Lee Van Cleef, Agnes Moorehead, Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Harry Morgan, Carroll Baker, Walter Brennan, and a young Harry Dean Stanton.  Spencer Tracy narrates.

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Father’s Day (Redux 2019)

It was.

As part of my now-annual Father’s Day tradition, I’m re-posting this 2016 podcast episode I recorded.  It details the story of my favorite Father’s Day of all time.

Even if the Father’s Day theme doesn’t resonate for you, if you’re a Red Sox fan who enjoys any excuse to reminisce about the impossibly magical run of the 2004 postseason, you’ll likely enjoy it.

Either way, Happy Father’s Day!

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Bill Buckner Never Needed Redemption, But He Got It Anyway

There was a moment a few years ago on Curb Your Enthusiasm that caught me by surprise in a way that I’m not sure any other television show has.

The season in question revolved around Larry’s misadventures in New York, where he coincidentally meets Bill Buckner.  During the scene, Larry encounters Buckner again, and then this happens:

Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of the funniest shows of the past 20 years, up there in the lofty heights occupied by 30 RockArrested Development, and a handful of others.  Yet, I wasn’t laughing during this scene.  I was holding back tears.  I imagine a lot of other Red Sox fans were as well.

Why?  Because it gave Buckner the redemption that he never should have needed in the first place.

It was a touching, sweet, albeit fictionalized send-off of sorts.  The send-off that Buckner should have always had.  Instead, prior to 2004, he was the poster boy for “The Curse,” the guy who let that ball go between his legs in the tenth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

By 1990, the fans had forgiven him, greeting his return to the Red Sox with a standing ovation.  But the media, which profited from the pre-2004 romanticism of the idea of a cursed franchise, could never let it go.

And, so, after retiring from baseball, Buckner took his family and moved to Idaho, the victim of an entirely unjust exile.

Unjust in the micro sense that Red Sox fans know well (Why wasn’t Dave Stapleton in at first?  Why isn’t Calvin Schiraldi remembered for his part in the Game 6 collapse?  Why does nobody talk about the Red Sox blowing a three-run lead in Game 7?), but also in the macro sense: Buckner played 22 years in the big leagues, was an All-Star, won a batting title, and had more career hits than Ted Williams.

By all accounts, Buckner was also a gentleman.  Even though he had every reason in the world not to be.

He found God later in life, and, with that, came acceptance, peace, and forgiveness—even toward those who did not deserve it.

Bill Buckner died today.  And I now know why that Curb scene touched me on an emotional level.


Guilt for reveling in the worst moment of a very good baseball player’s career.  Guilt for assigning far too much blame to one man.  Guilt for being one more voice in a chorus that eventually caused a man to move his family thousands of miles just to escape the noise.

Criticism comes with the territory in pro sports.  I was a just a small child when the Red Sox lost in 1986.  But the nature of the Red Sox’ (formerly) star-crossed history, coupled with the powerful scrutiny of the Boston media, turned the Buckner incident into something beyond the normal, understandable heat that pro athletes should be expected to take.

Things are different now.  As I’ve said before, the events of 2004 and beyond rendered everything that happened in 1986 not as a career-defining moment, but, rather, as part of a painful-if-necessary prologue that suddenly all made sense in a poetic, dare I say spiritual way.

In the end, Buckner was a good ballplayer and a better man.  For many reasons.  Not the least of which because he found it in his heart to extend grace to a whole bunch of people who had done little or nothing to earn it.  That is a greatness that transcends the fielding of a ground ball.

I am so thankful that he can truly rest in peace.  For his sake and for ours.

As such, this is the way I’ll always remember Bill Buckner:

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Timely Movie Review: Avengers – Endgame

The culmination of a 22-film franchise, Avengers: Endgame represents one of the most ambitious projects in filmmaking history—if not the most ambitious.

Providing a thorough synopsis of a complex, multifaceted, three-hour film is both overly cumbersome and unnecessary for a review like this one, so I’ll skip that.  I’d rather analyze it from a narrative and storytelling perspective, which is what matters to me, anyway.  Understand, though, that there will be numerous spoilers ahead.

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Five Tips for Paying Off Your Student Loans

With student loans becoming a hot topic of discussion this week, I figured I would remind everyone that I solved this crisis five years ago with this airtight list of pointers. You’re welcome.

The Axis of Ego

All of my student loans are paid in full as of this month.  Therefore, as a newly minted AMERICAN HERO, I thought I would share my wisdom with folks who haven’t yet crossed that sacred threshold.  I thought these pointers would be particularly helpful to people under 40 (like me) who are facing, or are projected to face, major financial hurdles as a result of their crippling debt.

Here are some tips, courtesy of a Real American:

1. Study HardDo well at your current level of schooling, and the next level will be cheaper.  There is a lot of scholarship money out there.  People will trip over themselves to give it to you.  Filling out paperwork is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re 17 (or even 21 or 35), but the fact that you’re simply willing to fill it out puts you ahead of most of…

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Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2019 Edition)

Having not watched a single complete college basketball game in all of 2019, I am hopelessly lost when it comes to March Madness.  Looking at my brackets from 2011, 2013, 2016, or 2017, one can see a clear and convincing pattern of deterioration into abject failure.

Last year, I finished seventeenth out of 21 in my (free) office pool, a borderline embarrassing performance.  I say “borderline” only because it’s tough to be embarrassed when the subject matter is so unfamiliar to me now.  It would be like feeling shame over finishing 17th in a Japanese spelling bee.

I won’t belabor the point further.  This year’s meager offering is as unimaginative as it is likely to produce a now-customarily poor finish.  So be it.

For your amusement, then:


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How to Promote Political Content on Facebook in 251 Easy Steps

Aficionados of this blog (both of you) may recall that I published a piece on the Covington Catholic controversy back in January.

Readers seemed to respond to the post, and, before I knew it, the piece had over 300 organic shares on Facebook.  I figured this would be a good candidate for paid promotion on Mr. Zuckerberg’s platform, but I also knew that I needed to act quickly before our insatiable and hopelessly sloppy news media pushed some other racially-tinged item to the fore in an attempt to cover up past journalistic malpractice and further incite the public.  You know.  The usual.

Since I had promoted numerous pieces of content in the past—many of which touched on political issues—I didn’t anticipate encountering any problems.  Unfortunately, this was the first time I had attempted to promote an article that included social commentary since Facebook SUPER SOLEMNLY vowed to crack down on content created by nefarious (read: Russian) sources.

As a result, Facebook treated me to this message when I tried to promote the Covington piece.

You’ll notice here that I’m told that I’m not “authorized” to run ads “related to politics and issues of national importance.”

Right off the bat, the idea that there’s an approval process for this type of advertising is worrisome.  Point blank—I’m less concerned about obviously fake articles from foreign sources than I am about the political leanings of domestic tech giants influencing who is an “approved” source of information.

Nevertheless, I decided to go through the process.

If you’d like a sneak preview of the increasingly maddening steps required to become an “approved” account, you’ve come to the right place.

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Untimely Movie Review: Ben-Hur

There’s a moment, about two hours into Ben-Hur, when Charlton Heston’s title character tells Esther “We stood here before,” to which she replies “a long while ago,” and Heston responds, “Four years ago,” at which point I replied, “Feels longer.”

That’s the trouble with Ben-Hur: It’s truly epic.  It’s beyond epic.  The best and the worst thing about it is the sheer scope of the film.  The sets are incredible, the costumes fantastic, and the sheer scale of the some of the scenes are stunningly impressive, particularly for that era of filmmaking.

The movie also spans two blu-ray discs and clocks in at a little under four hours long.  Similarly, it suffers from some of the same problems as some of the other movies I’ve reviewed.  Despite the massive runtime, Ben-Hur seems rushed at points, while dragging extensively at others.

You know what, though?  None of that really matters in the end.  Because of one scene.

Even if the rest of the film had been bad (which it isn’t), or Charlton Heston’s performance hadn’t been great (which it was), the movie would have ultimately been a success thanks to the chariot race scene alone.

The film won a record 11 Academy Awards on 12 nominations in an era when films that were literally spectacular often cleaned up at the Oscars.  In that way, it’s harder to impress modern eyes that have spent decades absorbing effects-saturated blockbusters.

Yet, it’s difficult to explain in words just how absolutely intense, exciting, and downright insane that scene is.  Even putting aside the scale of the thing, and the way it was shot, and the incredible 8,000 extras involved, the sheer danger of it is staggering.

This is an instance where viewing a film from a 2019 point-of-view makes a difference.  Sitting in my living room today, I know that those are real horses on that track, not CGI phantoms.  I also know that safety regulations in the late 1950s were, uh, a bit more lax than they would be today, particularly with dozens and dozens of animals involved.

That’s what makes that scene even more amazing.

As it is, Ben-Hur is a worthwhile film, albeit a very long one.  Its three-hour, 44-minute runtime is only 14 minutes shy of the incredibly long Gone with the Wind.  It goes without saying that a movie winning 11 Oscars is reason enough to take a look.  But the ambition of the film—particularly the chariot scene—makes it near-mandatory viewing for any film aficionado.


The above represents the resumption of a series that I began nearly five years ago, but which has laid dormant for over three years.  I still have more than 30 films to go in this collection, but I’ll finish them all eventually.  Here are all of the previous entries in the series:

Grand Hotel (1932)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Wizard of Oz (1939)
Gone with The Wind (1939)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Casablanca (1943)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gigi (1958)
North By Northwest (1959)

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